Life as an Extreme Sport


There are moments in memory where, when looking back, you see these little pushpins of moments that changed life. Sometimes they’re good moments, and sometimes they’re bad. One of the first of these pushpins in my academic life was a class I took my first quarter at the University of Washington, called Buffy as Archtype: Rethinking Human Nature in the Buffyverse.

I hadn’t wanted to take the class, truth be told. Buffy? Oh, please. (Yes, hold your laughter.) I had no interest in Buffy. Friends who were huge fans had tried to make me watch the show for years at that point, and I humoured them, and would be shown this or that favourite episode, and I would roll my eyes and continue to pass on the whole thing. Because of course, the problem with showing someone your favourite episode is their utter lack of context for why it’s your favourite; to me, it was people I didn’t know behaving senselessly. I had no background, and I really didn’t care.

But the academic adviser for CHID would not be deterred. I needed another class, and she needed a body – especially a body that did know her mythology and her Joseph Campbell. Besides, it was a CHID class, and would let me meet my fellow department-mates, and get to know people. It was sound argument, and I acquiesced. This was probably one of the two best decisions I ever made at UW.

The Buffy class did several things for me. First and most obviously, it introduced me to Buffy and the wider Whedonverse. I used Netflix to rent the series from the beginning, because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s not knowing – and watching just an episode here and there for class wasn’t doing it for me. I had to know the characters, I had to know the back story, I had to know the why’s. And what I discovered was a story of a female hero, friendship, strength, and even the value of weakness and the virtue of relying on your friends – all things I needed just then, as I was going through my divorce. Buffy kept me company at night, after work and schoolwork, and it helped me reshape my world to one where I could be that strong, too.

But the class had another major influence on me: it showed me that critical academic theory in a pop culture framework was possible. I don’t mean those light philosophy books and whatever popular TV show at the moment sort of things, but actual critical theory, Zizek-style (if you will). Perhaps even more importantly, it showed me the power of pop culture in teaching complex theories, something that has gone on to inform the basis of my own pedagogical style. It’s not coincidence or even passing brilliance on my part, that I illustrate my own lectures and courses with clips from The Daily Show, relevant movies, newscasts, and whatever else catches my eye and is appropriate. It is a direct callback to this class, which showed me the power of pop culture to form a concrete basis to then connect more tenuous academic concepts to.

In typical CHID tradition, one of the co-facilitators of the course was another CHID student, Jennifer K. Stuller. Jen was really amazing (and kind of intimidating) from the get-go. She herself was a great model of the sort of funny, warm, brilliant, strong female academic I wanted to be, an embodiment of the strong female hero that she was so fascinated with, and that formed the basis of her CHID thesis. (I would feel tongue-tied and shy around her, although if she ever noticed this, she was kind enough to not say.) It’s also formed the basis of her first book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology, which is available now, and something I really think everyone should buy. Moreso if you have daughters, because women need strong role models – the fictional ones Jen talks about in her book, and the ones like Jen herself.

misreading at Panera

I’m at Panera, trying to wake up enough to do a tutorial I need to finish ASAP, before gathering my reserve energy to run errands – mostly stock up on food before the trimester officially begins. So I’m blearily trying to make weekend plans, chat with friends via email, and contemplate getting a pastry or something, since I’m still hungry. And I glance over at the table tent to my left and see:

Caramel and Nuts go together
Like fresh bread and warm mercury


Oh. And warm memory.

But it still looks like mercury.

it’s the delays that break me

7:00am, Washington DC, Dulles International…
My final night in Santa Cruz, I joined various members of the CTY staff to see The Dark Knight. I don’t know many comic book fans in Albany (in fact, I’m not sure I know any), so seeing the movie with a bunch of very bright comic book fans was a special treat. My Taurus Twin Missy sat right behind me, while the clone of the ex-husband next to me, and between the three of us, we kept up an animated glee and snark during the previews (the group of physics majors in front of us turning to snark the ex-h clone’s reaction to the name Quantum of Solace was particularly amusing, given Jacob’s got his MA and will likely get his PhD in the field), especially for the utterly phenomenal OMG-can-I-see-it-NOW Watchmen preview. Then the movie started, and I was in heaven. Fabu movie.

Came home, packed, managed to get a comfortable 5 hours of sleep, and finish my odds and ends in the morning – impressive for me, I actually was well prepared to leave. I had checked in the night before, bought my upgrade (as $45 is really worth the extra leg room on a cross country flight for someone my height), reconfirmed my flight and its delay due to the massive thick pea soup permeating the entire Bay Area, from San Fran down to Santa Cruz, and enjoyed my final breakfast and casual goodbyes.

Driving back through 17 and the mountains was a continual trip through memory lane; the smells, views, roads, even the roasted dusty taste of fire smoked air. Resonating home. Where I grew up, played, worked. Moffet Field, Blue Angels, NEC, Great America. That way to the house. To places irrevocably changed by time, places I can never return to save memory. It was a little sad, a little sobering; I reached the airport contemplative.

Checking my bags, contemplation burned away to irritation – my flight was canceled and they were offering me the next available flight out… on Monday. They hadn’t even bothered to call anyone on the ticket – when my cell, Dad’s, and even Tracy’s were options. This, more than anything else, is what pisses me off about the entire thing. When I got an agent, that was rescinded (eventually) to Sunday afternoon departures. In theory I could have caught the noon shuttle back to the CTY site, but we would have had to figure out where to stick me for the night, how to feed me, and someone would have had to bring me back – not something I wanted to infringe on an already overworked and short numbered staff. I could have tried relatives, but again, a last minute imposition seemed wrong.

Finally, my bitchy and domineering personality got me a departure out of SFO at 10:30pm. Red eye to O’Hare, then a normal flight to Albany. Fine, fine… they shuttle me to SFO, I go to the ticketing line, and after nearly two hours of waiting get to an agent, who can’t get me out earlier, but offers to place me in a hotel overnight, let me wander around SFO, have a leisurely departure in the morning, and arrive home in the early evening. I take the offer, she books the flight, upgrades me the entire way, and goes to print out my hotel voucher… to discover the original flight was canceled due to crew being over flight flying allowance. Which they don’t cover for hotels.

Sigh. Fine. Back on the 10:30 – but wait! In that time, someone else grabbed those tickets! Suddenly I’m facing spending the night in SFO! Wonderful. Except! Eventually she offers me a flight that will have me home around 10pm Saturday night. What? FABULOUS! Sold, I’ll take it, I’ll sit in baggage for all I care, I just want to go home. I want to crawl into my own bed, cuddle my cats, see people I care about. Just let me go home.

She books me, doesn’t remember the upgrade that I had paid for on the long haul, or the complementary upgrades she provided for inconvenience. I don’t care – I’ll fix it at the gate, or deal.

Going through security, I check my tickets one more time for departure information, and discover the agent either lied to get me out of her face, or forgot how to tell time. She was going to be getting me home at 10AM Sunday, not Saturday night.

I bit back my tears but accepted the flight; I still left earlier than the 10:30 flight, and would get to Albany around the same time.

I proceeded to head to the correct gate, and confirm the flight with the agent there. A few tears have fallen, frustration winning, and she hands me kleenex and asks what’s wrong, expecting the typical travel story of departure, leaving a loved one, etc. I tell her briefly, and her eyes well in sympathy. Taking my tickets, she upgrades me again, all the way through. I am grateful, and find a corner to retire in to read for the next 6-odd hours.

Some 4-hours later, I get up to walk around, shop, get food. On the way back to my gate, I check my departure to LA, and discover, to my horror, that the flight has a delayed departure. A departure so delayed I won’t make my connecting flight.

Once again, I am stranded.

This time, I break down completely, huge wracking sobs. I simply sit in the middle of the nearest departure area and cry my eyes red and swollen. The only gate agent in the entire area comes flying over to find out what’s wrong, and I manage to choke out the entirety of my day, that I’ve been traveling for nearly 12 hours, that I’m stranded, that I can’t afford a hotel in SFO, that I want to go home. I want to go home.

She takes pity on me, and gently guides me to her podium, where she begins sifting through massive amounts of departure information. She eventually gets me on a flight to Seattle. There’s still the possibility of the flight out of Seattle, to Washington DC, being canceled, but at least in Seattle I could call on friends. Maybe delay my return a few more days, and recuperate up there – both from the travel ordeal and the month of teaching. If I did make it to Dulles, I would have an array of flights to Albany – and again, friends to call on if I was stranded. In fact, the only real concern was that, depending on when I arrived in Albany, there might not be anyone available to retrieve me from the airport. A hurdle to deal with if it ever even occurred.

I made it to Seattle, and discovered there another set of upgrades to Dulles and then to Albany – upgrades I became grateful for at 3am, trying to nap, muscles constricting with pain and frustration and exhaustion. I’m currently sitting in front of a combo News Connection/Starbucks, half a terminal away from my plane to Albany, departing in approximately one hour. Before most of you are even awake and reading this, I will be home, hopefully tucked into bed and quite passed out. (Although much more likely that I will be fending off persistent and irritated cats.)

I realize that delays and cancellations, especially with the economy being what it is, with high oil prices and fewer people flying, are a part of air travel. And I also realize that I’ve spent much of the last 18 months traveling frequently, and without any significant delay or other problems (save a single mishap with getting the cats back to Albany last April). It was my time, and the travel gods were not smiling; hopefully this means another two-odd years of travel juju.

But I’m still tired, exhausted, and wanting nothing more than to collect the hug that I know is waiting for me, and to go home.


written on United Flight 262, SeaTac to Dulles, red eye

The stars are bright and the moon is full, illuminating the wisps of clouds below. Further down, under the cloud layer, are the cities of Middle America, the flyovers, stretched out in bright hazy orange clusters as far as the eye can see. Stretched to and beyond the horizon. They look like neural ganglions, the glowing tendrails of the highways connecting them in a perfect mimicry of our own neural makeup.

The sun set for me almost two hours ago, but we are racing east, racing home, and soon enough the sun will rise to meet us, cutting night off with a mere five hours, if lucky.

The sun will be up and burning by the time I am home, a new day. But I will be home.


It is 10:30pm, and I am dreadfully tired and not tired at all. Thoughts refuse to form in any sort of coherence, words flying around like leaves scattered in a breeze, but my fingers pluck them out and down with ease. Split in two, I at once want to sleep, to sleep for weeks, and to madly push through all that needs to be done in a single fell swoop. I want to go out, expereince the people around me and life, and curl under my blanket until dawn breaks over the tips of the trees surrounding my bed and room.

The split life is everything right now – the immediate of where I am, the reality of coming home and back to the place I grew up, where everyone has embraced my casual attitude. Santa Cruz time, Santa Cruz casual – don’t bring your East Coast attitude here. But at the same time, my East Coast life hasn’t stopped, hasn’t really even paused, and what was at one point just a gentle reminder of the life I have now became the lifeline holding me together and on through an increasingly difficult experience. I look forward, now, to going home, and that has shifted in my head to mean things like my bed, my cats, the people physically in my life in Albany. But I know once I am there, as happy as I will be in that moment, it will be the echo of arriving at San Jose International Airport, and in a few days I will begin to ache, again, for the Left Coast life.